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Arthur W. White

It has been said that events in a man’s life frequently hinge on mere chance.

The saying certainly applies in the case of Arthur White, carpenters’ business agent and long active in labor and civic affairs here. For, had a certain coin, flipped many years ago in England, turned up tails, Mr. White might today be, of all things, a New Zealander.

The coin flipping ceremony, which took place in London about 1905, was to decide whether White and another carpenter’s apprentice would migrate to Canada or to New Zealand. The coin said Canada, and that’s where the two youthful adventurers, seeking something new, set out for.

It was really nothing more than a desire for new experiences and maybe some excitement, Mr. White claims, that made him leave his native country. Born there in 1884, he had gone through public school, and had become a carpenter’s apprentice, joining the carpenters’ union.

Certain features of English unions that distinguish them from American come to his mind as he recalls his early union days. The carpenters’ locals retained all the dues collected by them, but submitted a monthly report to union headquarters, showing the amount of money per capita in their treasuries. If headquarters found that the sum in one district fell below what it should be, all member unions were automatically assessed to make up the deficiency. This was called the common fund basis.

The office of business agent was optional with the unions and frequently maintained only in the larger cities. Collective bargaining was usually carried on by a union committee.

The son of a union carpenter, Arthur White vacated the vice presidency of his local in London when he transferred his union membership to Canadian locals. After working for a short time in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg, he went to Detroit in 1908. He then returned briefly to Toronto and finally came to Rochester, but not by chance. The monthly report of his union showed that trade was good in Rochester. When the Toronto boat docked at Charlotte, White was disappointed, because he thought that was the city of Rochester, but he soon learned that the city was “up a few miles.”

He immediately joined the carpenter’s union here, since any carpenter with a paid-up membership in a British union is accepted into a United States union without a fee. Employed here as a carpenter, he soon became active in union circles and served as president and then secretary of Local 2548.

Because he had a desire to see a presidential inauguration, White went to Washington in 1913, and, although his purpose was accomplished in one day, he remained there for a year. After that he was on the go for a number of years, coming to Rochester frequently, but journeying and working also in a number of other states. During the 1920’s he was in Rochester most of the time and served as president of the Carpenters’ District Council for several terms, attended a number of conventions as delegate and held other union offices.

Since 1934 he has been business agent and secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council. But now an attractive new office is in the offing. The office of assistant state industrial commissioner in this area is vacant and Rochester labor can see no reason why Arthur White should not fill the position. The Allied Building Trades Council and the Central Trades and Labor Council have endorsed White for the office.

Disclaiming any interest in or tendency toward politics, White, nevertheless, ran for the office of president of the Central Trades and Labor Council in 1939. His running mates were Michael Reed for first vice president; Julius Hoesterey, second vice president; Julius Loos, financial secretary; Harmon Smith, recording secretary; and Hoseph Stenglein for treasurer. The slate was badly defeated, but White was not too disappointed since he had not put on an intensive campaign for the presidency.

He recalls with particular satisfaction one episode in his collective bargaining experience. An important local contractor had eight non-union men on a certain job. White was able to convince the contractor that the job could be done more quickly and more cheaply by expert union workers. During the discussion, the contractor asked White what he (the contractor) must do to meet union conditions. White replied, “You don’t have to do anything, but this is what we would like you to do.”

The answer, White later learned, was what decided the contractor to employ union workers in the future and he signed a contract with the union.

An ardent fighter for causes which he believes worthwhile, White is at present concerned with reviving the much discussed but now almost discarded housing issue in Rochester. Because he believes in the need for a complete housing program in this city, and because he realizes that it would mean work for many of his men and other workers in the city, he has called a conference of civic leaders for March 20 in Rundel Library to reconsider the problem. He will preside as chairman of the Central Trades and Labor Council committee on housing.

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